On October 6-7 in Yerevan an international conference titled “Legal Regulation of Public and Private Broadcasting” was held. The Conference had been organized by Yerevan Press Club with the support of East-East Program and the Media Network Program of the Open Society Institute, the Council of Europe, Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Internews NGO also assisted the organization of the event. The Conference accommodated journalists, lawyers, members of parliaments, leaders of professional journalistic associations from the South Caucasus, Central Asia, Russia, Ukraine, other countries of Eastern and Central Europe, South Africa, as well as representatives of reputable international organizations, such as the Council of Europe, OSCE, the International Federation of Journalists, the European Institute for the Media.
The main subject of the discussion was the situation around the public and private broadcasting and the legal regulation of the sphere. The participants showed great diversity (14 countries), yet the problems voiced were similar, especially in the post-Soviet region. The opening speech of the Administrative Officer of Media Division, DG II of the Council of Europe Pall Thorhallsson expressed a wish to “listen to success stories” referring to broadcasting. The experience of democratically developed countries, as always, made one envious.
Thus, as Henrik Selin, the Deputy Director of the Media Division of the Ministry of Culture of Sweden, noted, his was the first country in the world to legally establish the freedom of the press. In 1766 the Parliament of Sweden adopted a Freedom of Press Act, which in 1809 became a part of the Constitution.
In Estonia, Rein Lang, the head of popular Estonian Kuku Radio, said, the Public Information Act came into force on January 1, 2001. According to the Act, all the official documents which contain no state secrets, are placed on the Internet.
The representatives of other post-Soviet countries had, unfortunately, very little to be proud of. Nowadays, laws on television and radio are passed only in Ukraine (1997) and Armenia. (By the way, on October 9 the Armenian broadcast law became one year old.) They are both far from being perfect and need serious reforming. The legal field in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, especially in the broadcast area, is practically unshaped – draft laws have been developed at best. According to the Director of the Media Law and Policy Center Andrei Richter, in early next year the Russian TV and radio companies may encounter a serious obstacle. In February 2002 the new law on licensing will come into effect; however its list of entities to be licensed forgetfully – in the direct sense of this word – omits TV and radio broadcasting. Meanwhile, the suspension of license for broadcasting, even if only for a few months, means a death for the company.
The British, as Andrei Richter mentioned, are more accurate in paying subscription fees for the public broadcasting than they are with any of the taxes. The specifics of public broadcasting in the former Soviet Union, in the opinion of the Secretary of Committee on Freedom of Speech Issues of the Ukraine Parliament Vitaliy Shevchenko, is that in the West it was usually created to counterbalance the private, in our countries – to counterbalance the state broadcasting. Yet, very often, this implies nothing but a name change, the essence remains the same. “We live in countries where the legislative reality is one thing and the real one is something different”, Georgij Pocheptsov, another Ukraine representative, said. The phrase of his compatriot Valery Ivanov echoed this: “The fact that the law is adopted does not mean that it will be executed by the executive branch.”
The aspiration of the authorities to retain, in any possible way, the control over media, the unshaped political and legal fields, the absence of developed advertising market, etc., all this were mentioned by the participants to be hindering the development of free media and democracy. As the representative of the Ministry of Communications of South Africa Lumko Mtimde said, even if everyone can be licensed to broadcast, this does not mean that in this way the diversity of opinions is ensured. Also, unlike Sweden, no political parties in SAR, have rights for a frequency.
The question of how to transit from the state TV and radio to the really public ones and how to eliminate the institute of the state-owned media as such still remains rhetoric for the posttotalitarian countries.
The whole broad scope of problems and issues discussed at the Conference is planned by Yerevan Press Club for publication as a brochure in English and Russian languages. Some of the Conference materials are already presented at YPC Web Site.